For nearly 30 years, Johnny Carson triumphantly strode out onto the 'Tonight Show' stage after sidekick Ed McMahon’s booming introduction: “Heeere’s Johnny!”
But when the cameras turned off, it was more like, “Where’s Johnny?” “I remember rescuing him in the hallway after the show from people who had managed to elude security,” Dick Cavett, Johnny’s friend and fellow late-night talk show host, recalls to 'Closer.'
“He was just having an awful time making small talk with them. I’d say, ‘A pipe burst in your office, Johnny, you’d better go down and see about it,’ to get him away from them. He just had no casual social skills in conversation."
Johnny with guest Joan Rivers on the 'Tonight Show.' (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
A decade after his death from emphysema at age 79, Johnny remains an enigma: As the universally beloved host of NBC’s 'Tonight Show,' he was witty and charming — a true master of ceremonies.
“Johnny was a very good listener, and that’s a dying art,” says his nephew Jeff Sotzing, president of the Carson Entertainment Group. “He really knew how to carry a conversation [on the air] — he was extremely funny and very fast. He was able to react to almost anything.”
Johnny on the 'Tonight Show' as Carnac the Magnificent. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
But when the show was over, Johnny was a very different man: awkward, reticent, painfully shy. “He was a classic introvert — the kind of person who’s recharged by being alone and depleted by being among people,” observes Andrew Nicholls, Johnny’s head writer from 1988 to 1992.
“He’d get into his car with a palpable sense of relief after a show, like, That was good; now I’d like to be alone in the dark listening to jazz. He didn’t socialize much. He saved his energy for performance.”
To read the full story on Johnny, pick up the new issue of 'Closer Weekly,' on newsstands now!